04 August 2008

Archaic Counting

I just finished transcribing an old 'conversation book' from 1904 -- a teaching aid used in elementary school to teach Irish. (I have a fascination for book in general, and old books specifically, mock away!).

As I was typing, however, I came across two things that are rather interesting -- older Irish often counted in groups of twenty: that is, 30 is 'ten and twenty' and 59 is 'nine-and-two-twenties', which seems like a rather bizarre way to count in a base-ten system. I don't think that this is at all a common modern usage (and considering the age of the book, things have changed dramatically).

The other odd statement I found in another book (This time a compilation of 'A Grammar for the Irish Language' by Mason, and dating to 1842) is this:
"There is an idiom in very common use, which is to call 7 "great six"—ex. móir sheisíur, 7.
Huh? I can't think of any reason that this would be a "common idiom", even in 1842. What possible reason could you have for calling a seven a "big 6"? There must be some sort of anectdotal story about it somewhere, but I can't find a reference. I could justify counting in twenties, even, but this? Seven is just "big six"?

Anyone have any further info?


Anne Rather Askew said...

Remember the phrase: "four-score and seven years ago"? A "score" was twenty. I think before calculators, there were all sorts of counting-by-x strategies to make head-math easier.

FM718 said...

Maybe it's something similar to a "baker's dozen".